Below is the information about our upcoming conference, a large part of this planning project. Online registration is available here!

Beyond the Surface: Environmental Art in Action

Hosted by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

May 31, 2013

Stacy Levy, Pier 53

Join us for a day of ideas and innovative thinking, investigating relationships between art and nature.

 

 

Conference Description

How can environmental art engage the environment and the individual, activate awareness, and integrate perspectives that result in unexpected and innovative approaches to environmental literacy?

While the natural world has captured the imagination of artists for centuries, more and more of today’s artists are thinking beyond the studio, blending art, science and social practice with a fresh sense of immediacy, connecting art to nature and environmental issues.  No longer content with scratching the surface of environmental problems, these artists want to move beyond the surface, engaging audiences to become part of the solution.

This conference brings a team of cutting-edge environmental artists and arts professionals to Philadelphia to share this work with you, to discuss ways art can create environmental awareness while restoring ecological systems.

Jenny Sabin, Greenhouse and Cabinet of Future Fossils

The artists presenting at the conference have been working with these ideas for much of their careers. To call attention to climate change, for example, Eve Mosher painted a high-water line across Manhattan, showing people where the water would rise to if sea-level projections occur. Stacy Levy’s artwork in the Schuylkill Center’s Sensory Garden remediates our building’s stormwater, which had been compromising our own forest.  Lillian Ball projected a shifting, multicolored map of the Arctic circle onto a sphere of ice, the ice melting even as the projected image showed a vanishing Arctic.

The Schuylkill Center’s Art Department has brought artists to its 340 acre site since 2001. This year, the Center has gone further, examining how art intersects with other disciplines –education, ecology, architecture, engineering and planning, to name a few, to create fresh innovations and exciting experiences for the public. Our project has brought together an Advisory Team of the artists and curators who work in the field of environmental art.  (Please visit www.schuylkillcenter.org/art for more information about this project, the team and to read their blogs).

We believe art can help to repair a broken relationship between humans and nature and simultaneously transform audiences from passive observers of art to active participants in ecosystems.

Lillian Ball, WATERWASH® ABC

We are re-thinking how art exists at nature centers, and are eager to share these findings with our colleagues in the art and environmental communities.   We welcome artists, educators, environmentalists, scientists, designers, landscape architects, teachers and students of all ages to this groundbreaking event.

 

 

Conference Schedule 

Morning Session: 9 am – 12 pm

1. Welcome by Schuylkill Center Executive Director Mike Weilbacher

2. Introduction by Jenny Laden, the Schuylkill Center’s Director of Environmental Art, and Deenah Loeb, SCEE trustee and chair of the Environmental Art Committee

3. Environmental Art Advisory Team Presentations:

Lillian Ball

Sam Bower

Amy Lipton

Eve Mosher

Stacy Levy

Frances Whitehead

 

Lunch: 1 – 2 pm

Optional site visit:  Take aninformal walk throughout SCEE lands with SCEE staff to the pine grove or Penn’s Native Acres

Afternoon:

1. Breakout Groups: 2 – 3:30 pm

Afternoon Breakout groups will delve more deeply (guided by members of Environmental  Art Advisory Team)

I. Engage              Eve Mosher/Amy Lipton

II. Integrate        Frances Whitehead/Stacy Levy

III. Activate         Lillian Ball/ Sam Bower

2. RainYard presentation by Stacy Levy:  4 – 4:45 pm

Levy discusses rainwater, and creating a permanent ecovention at SCEE.

3. Closing: 4:45 pm

4. Outdoor reception:  5 – 6 pm

Celebrate Levy’s new installation with refreshments in the Sensory Garden.

 

 

 

Conference Registration

Conference admission fee $80
Schuylkill Center member discounted admission $60
Students, artists, educators discounted admission $40

Early Registration Special: Until March 31, a 20% discount will be applied at checkout

Register online HERE

For more information, call our art department 215 482 7300 x 113  or visit our website: www.schuylkillcenter.org/art

Or email artprogram@schuylkillcenter.org

This even is funded in part by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and The National Endowment of the Arts.

Time Frames

by Sam Bower 2013


Standing in the woods near the pond at the Schuylkill Center, we can look out and see a range of time scales. The brown and golden leaves under our feet from the Fall- the leftovers of a year’s work by the trees above us. Perhaps there’s snow still on the ground from a recent storm, itself the result of the vast cycles of evaporation off the ground and from lakes and oceans into the atmosphere and clouds and back down again. Some of the trees around us are decades, maybe hundreds of years old. Frogs and fish and insects hidden underground or inside vegetation, birds in their nests chirping and flitting about, grasses, flowers each have their lifespans and carefully timed cycles to support, prey on or evade each other – evolved over thousands, even millions of years.


Changing urban land use patterns offer opportunities for shifts in paradigm, innovation and art: (http://www.takebackthetract.com/)

When we think of culture and public art, we have an opportunity to think along similar time scales. Humans also have their cycles of productivity, lifespans and fleeting passions. These interests also evolve over time to reflect our knowledge, context and the resources at hand.

Sometimes an artwork arrives with a bang and loud trumpets and just as quickly fades into the day or week or month only to live on in memory and documentation. Like sighting a rare Blue-winged Warbler in the forest, or waking up to an overnight dusting of snow that makes the line of every tree suddenly visible, or the miracle of a drop of dew on a leaf in the Summer that reflects a world upside down, these brief events delight and remind us of the preciousness of the present moment. Some things are simply best communicated ephemerally. A song. A performance. A rain shadow.

On the medium scale, we have most plants and animals and planted crops and, alas, most human projects. We tend to think in terms of months or years or at best decades. A hundred years without regular maintenance is long for a built structure, long for most outdoor sculptures, too, even those meant to be “permanent”. It’s the lifespan of an exhibition, a person, a raven, a grove of Sassafrass (albidum) and it serves to ground us in the familiar. We can see it and know it because it’s us. Within a century, with the strategic accumulation of such medium scale projects, we can make major improvements or changes to a place and set things in motion that can last a lot longer.

It’s the larger time frame that gets the least attention and is often more difficult to wrap our heads around. The scope of generations. Climate change. Geological time. Too often, these big shifts elude us. We claim not to know. A sudden revolution or a storm or an accident can thwart the best laid plans. Ultimately, we know that a focus on the specific is often too limiting a scale for something long lived and significant.

At the Schuylkill Center, the increasing flow of voracious and unmanaged deer over and across the land, and the invasive Asian earthworms (Amythas hilgendorfi and agrestis) under it, are regional and even continental challenges. To encourage specific changes here, we would need to plan and coordinate with those working within much larger areas to be effective. To set in motion a resilient set of processes that truly begin to nudge us and the natural areas under our trust towards a future that can address a world in flux is an enormous challenge. At a time of massive species extinction and global changes in climate, we need a flexible and directed multi-timescale approach to culture and ecological stewardship.

The environmental art advisory team at the Schuylkill Center in 2012.

This is the challenge ahead for the Schuylkill Center. Most art, even ecological art is a flash in the pan, a tasty snack. They generate attractive catalogs and press releases and perhaps valuable discussion, but will the worms and watersheds really notice? We have large institutions for pickling great paintings and sculptures, but outdoor work designed to heal the earth and support our communities is a different animal. While a project can have representative images and installations at these museums (usually as part of a temporary exhibition), the real work gets done on the ground and in context.

Like in an ecosystem, we need the dew drops and temporary projects to delight and attract. We also require specific medium term artful initiatives to control erosion, channel rainwater, educate people longer term and connect current and future generations to the land. It falls to the long term, multi-generational projects, however, to provide a long term vision that considers the implications and resilience needed to cope with, say, a 2-6 degree rise in global temperatures over the next few hundred years. It seems we’d want to look at rising water levels – how would this affect the Schuylkill River? What local conditions will we need to ensure maximum biodiversity and habitat support for migrating species seeking more favorable habitats?

In nature, we can see the extraordinary interplay of finely tuned life cycles working together to support the system as a whole. As these delicately synchronized dances grow increasingly out of synch with pollution, temperature and weather changes, what we know and have studied over the past hundreds of years will require new interpretation. It will become less about restoration of past conditions and more about our capacity to surf these changes. Our notion of what art is will also need to change.

For ecological art to be effective, we will need to think along multiple time scales and beyond the individual artwork, towards a future-oriented cultural system as a whole. How can the brief delightful moments support the larger arc of history? Can we begin to layer and combine artworks to support each other, much like the shift from unicellular to multi-cellular life? I’m looking forward to the role the Schuylkill Center can play in this civilizational shift. It is a precious opportunity to contribute to our times and help develop new cultural patterns for generations to come.

©Sam Bower 2013

 

Ecological Design Thinking

by Jenny Sabin

Figure 1 – Sabin’s myThread Pavilion for NYC Nike FlyKnit Collective; featuring a responsive Whole Garment knitted structure; image courtesy of Nike Inc.

Sustainable building practices should not simply be technical endeavors. They should include the transformation of existing built fabric into sustainable models that inspire both positive socio-cultural change and innovation in design, science, art and technology. Professor and architect, Michael Hensel at a recent symposium hosted by the Department of Architecture at Cornell University titled Sustaining Sustainability, underscored this notion (see full review by Sabin in The Architectural Review Issue #1381, March 2012). The symposium featured lectures by a diverse group of researchers and practitioners spanning multiple disciplines from biology to architecture who share a common concern for what Hensel has labeled ‘sustainability fatigue’. This symposium was not centered upon exhausted issues including energy, optimization and performance, which tend to dominate most conferences on sustainability in architecture today, but was instead focused on re-thinking the entire conceptual foundation for the project, one which fundamentally examines our relationship with nature and nature’s relationship with humans. Important to this shift, is a move away from purely technical solutions to environmental sustainability and a move towards an understanding that our built and natural environments are equally becoming the contexts for thriving hybrid ecosystems. How might architecture and art respond to issues of ecology whereby buildings and environmental interventions behave more like organisms in their built environments? And further, what role do humans play in response to changing conditions within the built environment using minimal energy consumption?

My work investigates the intersections of architecture and science, and applies insights and theories from biology and mathematics to the design of material structures. I am Assistant Professor in the area of Design and Emerging Technologies at Cornell University in the Department of Architecture, co-founder of LabStudio and principal of Jenny Sabin Studio, an experimental architectural design studio based in Philadelphia. I am interested in looking to nature for design models that give rise to new ways of thinking about issues of adaptation, change and performance in architecture.

Intersections between architecture, environmental art, materials science and biology offer fruitful models for ecological design thinking where collaborative pursuits offer new approaches to how we interact with nature in the built environment and to long term sustainable solutions in each of our individual fields.

Buildings in the U.S. alone account for nearly 40% of the total national energy consumption. Therefore, the design and production of new energy efficient technologies is crucial to successfully meet goals such as the Net-Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative (CBI) put forward by the U.S. DOE, which aims to achieve zero-energy commercial buildings by 2025. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a rating system launched by the U.S. Green Building Council for new construction and existing building renovations. The LEED green building certification program is the industry standard for accelerating global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices. While this certification program serves as a positive and productive report card for assessing a building’s impact upon its environment, it ultimately enforces a short-term ‘check box’ mentality over long term and systemic ecological design thinking. Ecological design thinking requires a radical departure from traditional research and design models in architecture, art and science with a move towards hybrid, trans-disciplinary concepts and models for collaborating. Although there have been tremendous innovations in design, material sciences, bio- and information technologies, direct interactions and collaborations between scientists, architects and artists are rare. All of this is regardless of the fact that science, engineering, art and architecture all share the need to comprehend key social, environmental and technological issues. One approach is to couple architectural designers with engineers and biologists within a research-based laboratory-studio in order to develop new ways of thinking, seeing and doing in each of our fields.

Since the official public launch in the fall of 2010 of our National Science Foundation (NSF) Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) Science in Energy and Environmental Design (SEED) project titled, Energy Minimization via Multi-Scalar Architectures: From Cell Contractility to Sensing Materials to Adaptive Building Skins, I (Co-PI) along with Andrew Lucia (Senior Personnel) have led a team of architects, graduate architecture students and researchers in the investigation of biologically-informed design through the visualization of complex data sets, digital fabrication and the production of experimental material systems for prototype speculations of adaptive building skins, designated eSkin, at the macro-building scale. The full team, led by Dr. Shu Yang (PI), is actively engaged in rigorous scientific research at the core of ecological building materials and design. Our project contributes to an area within architecture called responsive architecture while also presenting a unique avant-garde model for sustainable design via the fusion of the architectural design studio with laboratory-based scientific research.

Figure 2 – eSkin project, sponsored by NSF EFRI SEED, UPenn & Cornell; our emphasis rests heavily upon the study of natural and artificial ecology and design, especially in observing how cells interacting with pre-designed geometric patterns alter these patterns to generate new surface effects.

Responsive architecture, a term first coined by Nicholas Negroponte, is a type of architecture that has the ability to alter its form in response to changing conditions, particularly at multiple scales. Popular examples include Galleria Hall West (Seoul, South Korea), Institut Du Monde Arabe, Aegis Hypo-Surface, POLA Ginza Building Façade, and SmartWrap™. Most of these examples, however, rely heavily upon the use of mechanically driven units that communicate through a mainframe, and they have to be nested within a building façade system. A building’s envelope must consider a number of important design parameters including degrees of transparency, overall aesthetics and performance against external conditions such as sunlight levels, ventilation and solar heat-gain. SmartWrap™ by Kieran Timberlake architects, integrates currently segregated functions of a conventional wall, and combines them into one advanced composite system. In contrast to these examples, our emphasis rests heavily upon the study of natural and artificial ecology and design, especially in observing how cells interacting with pre-designed geometric patterns alter these patterns to generate new surface effects. These tools and modes of design thinking, are then applied towards the design and engineering of passively responsive materials, and sensors and imagers.

The synergistic, bottom-up approach across diverse disciplines, including cell-matrix biology, materials science & engineering, electrical & systems engineering, and architecture brings about a new paradigm to construct intelligent and sustainable building skins that engage users at an aesthetic level with minimal energy consumption. We hope that our interdisciplinary work and modes of ecological design thinking not only redefine definitions of research and design, but will also address pressing topics in each of our fields concerning key social, environmental and technological issues that ultimately impact all humans in our built environments.

©Jenny Sabin 2013

Making Room for Rain

By Stacy Levy

The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is working to investigate the intersection of nature and the city. The role of rain in the landscape is being actively explored in programs and planning around its buildings. As a nature center, SCEE is at the forefront of solving site issues through art based intervention. On May 31, 2013 a conference on New Environmental Art will be held at SCEE to look at ways that art and science can collaborate to solve ecological problems in urban nature, and enlighten citizens to find new solutions in their own lives.

Rain is usually given a long narrow space to inhabit: gutters, downspouts, underground pipes. People can walk practically anywhere in a building and on the surrounding landscape. What if this paradigm got turned on its head? 
Give people a more narrow path of movement around a site while rain gets plenty of space to spread out and linger? How would our built environments change? And how would it change our relationship to rain?As an eco-artist, I want art to be an advocate of rain. Art is good at giving meaning to the leftover or abandoned aspects of the world—and rain is one of those abandoned elements. Though a yardstick worth of rain falls every yearin this region, we hardly register rain’s presence. In urban settings, architecture and engineering have generally kept rain invisible to us. The relationship between rain and the built environment needs to be changed, and art is well positioned to alter that relationship.At SCEE, I am working with ecologists, engineers and educators to create an artwork that gives the rain room to spread out while keeping people in a defined space. But people do not lose out in this design— both rain and visitors get a dynamic space to co-exist.Rain Gardens create spaces that can get wet and stay wet while the water infiltrates into the soil.

Instead of becoming a muddy soup, the rain garden holds the rain within the permeable soil and the roots of a diverse community of native plants . These plants also make good habitat for other species like insects and food for birds and other small mammals.

 

This new artwork deals with two types of visitors to the site: rain and humans. A grated metal catwalk prevents the plants from being trampled while also keeping people’s feet dry. ‘Staying dry’ and ‘soaking in’ are two incongruent activities—one of the reasons that rain has no place to go in the built world is the hierarchy of the dry human foot!


We want to demonstrate ways to change rain’s journey in the built environment. We also want to give visitors a chance to test out the very materials of the city: the surfaces we spend our lives walking on like asphalt, concrete and grass. How do these materials work with or work against rain?

How this art works: Some of the rainwater will be diverted and stored in an above ground cistern. Then during dry days, our visitors can pump this contained water into 5 different troughs. Each trough contains a different familiar surface materials from the landscape: concrete, asphalt, gravel lawn and meadow. People can direct the rainwater onto these different surfaces to see how the water responds— by soaking in or running off.

At SCEE rainwater will be given both the time and the place to act the way rain should act. And people will be given a place to interact with the falling rain while staying out of its way as it soaks into the soil. The idea of rain needing a refuge is a new idea to most of us. We hope people learn about rain, and the surfaces it meets in our world. This piece gives people a new angle on rain and its relationship to our built environment.

The piece will be under construction over the early spring. Please come by and see it!


Want to know more about Rain Gardens?

The Philadelphia Water Department

The Rain Garden Network

The Groundwater Foundation

The Department of Environmental Conservation

Rain Garden Alliance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©2012 Stacy Levy

Art/ist Roles

By Eve Mosher

October 29th, Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The eye of the storm passed over New Jersey but the hurricane winds, and worse, a massive storm surge hit New York City. The storm surge, combined with high tides and sea level rise created a superstorm that sent waters rushing into the coastal areas of New York.

As images of the floods began to circulate, I got a sense of eerie familiarity. The debris line near the 14th street power station (where an explosion knocked out power for lower Manhattan for almost a week), the flooded Battery Tunnel entrance in Manhattan and the water soaked communities of Red Hook and Dumbo.

Debris in front of the ConEd substation at 14th and Ave C.(Dan Lurie / Gothamist)

Debris in front of the ConEd substation at 14th and Ave C.(Dan Lurie / Gothamist)

These images and places were where I had walked, in 2007, slowly drawing a blue chalk line along the ten foot above sea level line.

Eve Mosher’s, HighWaterLine Project on 14th street

I knew the areas well, met community members and witnessed everything along that line. I was creating a visualization based on a report written by climate scientists in 2001, which forecast more frequent severe flooding (from stronger storms) with a worst case scenario of a devastating flood once every four years by 2100.

The intention of the HighWaterLine project was to create a spectacle around which people could gather to engage in a conversation about climate change and their role in changing future scenarios.

The project has now become a rally cry for what we knew then and what the challenges we face now.

 

What is the place and power of art at the intersection of science, the environment and policy? And what power does art have on participating in the ever changing urban landscape?

Public works have the power to disrupt our daily routine and in so doing, leave an indelible impression upon us, scientific study even upholds the notion of the power of the unexpected From this place, art becomes an entry point for a memorable experience that can inform personal and community decisions. Some works create a space for a deeper experience and contemplation – Agnes Denes’ “Field of Wheat,” at once informed and motivated consideration on the culture of development and displacement. The “I Wish this Was…” project by artist Candy Chang sought to spur greater action – creating a space for creative thinking about development by and for a community.

Artists have a distinct ability to approach a problem or visualize an issue in a way that might exist outside the rubric of peer-reviewed reports, bureaucratic infrastructure and other frameworks which seek to create impediments instead of inspiration. Artists use visualization and emotion to convey information that could elsewhere read as dry and uninspired.

What are the various roles inhabited by art or artists that might allow participation in global issues?

  • Art/ist as commentator. Not merely editorializing on contemporary issues, but translating the facts into a work that creates an emotional experience. A successful project can go beyond the act of re-stating an issue by inciting questions and action.
  • Art/ist as collaborator. Working with science & scientists to create works that make complex knowledge accessible, and can be taken into the wider community. Mary Miss’ City as Living Laboratory/1,000 Stepsproject engages local communities, artists, scientists, planners and other stakeholders come together to design and develop projects to address sustainability along the Broadway corridor in NYC.
  • Art/ist as witness.  Work can create a space for community reaction, or act as a method of observing and documenting those reactions.
  • Art/ist as storyteller. Stories as a tool for communication are jarringly powerful. The personal relationship to issues and information creates an emotional connection. Acting as witness is also a method of collecting and redistributing stories.
  • Art/ist as catalyst. Creating works that spark or inspire change in thought and attitude or act as instigator for discussion play an important role in transfer of knowledge and civic engagement.
  • Art/ist as innovator. Unhindered by existing frameworks, artists can restructure and reinvent  solutions and methods of engagement through artistic acts.
  • Art/ist as community builder. An artist can provide an object or event upon which people can focus, showing their support, enthusiasm or varied passion. Xavier Cortada‘s Reclamation Project, which engages communities in the act of nurturing and planting mangrove trees in Florida is a simple act in which participants gain knowledge and a sense of acting to reverse the devastating impacts of development on their own communities.

After Hurricane Sandy, my work was used by Elizabeth Kolbert, writing in The New Yorker, as setting the stage for comprehension of the great challenges that lay ahead for the city of New York in addressing future floods. It was also used by Bill Weir, on ABC Nightline News to create a local visual tie to global climate change impacts as documented by the Extreme Ice Survey time lapse documentation of glacial retreat.

For me, this is indicative of the great role that art can play of focusing attention and translating complex situations into powerful, visual statements.

©Eve Mosher 2013

Effective Art

By Lillian Ball

There is an innovative category of artist that confirms the many ways art can do more than mirror the state of our culture, or current events. These artists are committed to working in ways that actually change how the world works in addition to the ways we might perceive the world.

The diverse art projects I am fascinated with cover a wide range of disciplines. Social practice or public interaction is often a vital component. These international artists are doing more than merely talking about “relational aesthetics”. Ecological systems are inherently relational with great potential for embedded aesthetics. Financial and economic crises, sustainability and green infrastructure, bioremediation and native habitat restoration: all can be subjects of this reflective approach.

Some projects are activist in form, but others may just be creatively subversive – employing whatever tactics go beyond getting the point across, all the way to actually making a difference. Artistic personalities can be resourceful in unique ways because artists are taught to think outside the box. Adversity trains them to be capable of negotiating transformative paths. This work is not necessarily political, but often involves alternative structures, cross-disciplinary methods, and the applied sciences. Public officials may be supportive, or in opposition, but the work certainly provokes a response.

Several international artists present solutions to environmental and land use challenges in a variety of formats. Project manifestations range from studio art, to performance, to depictions of permanent public installations. The artwork itself is visual, poetic, and ambiguous, not didactic in nature. We can be inspired, and intelligently seduced into action, without being bombarded by post-apocalyptic visions.

Links below are examples of projects that hinge on the artist’s individual commitment to public interaction:

Fernando Garcia Dory organizes Shepherds events that maintain farming culture and prevent development in the mountains of his native Spain.

 

 

Reverend Billy/Church of Stop Shopping deposited “murdered mountain mud” at 20 Chase Manhattan branches informing customers about the bank’s mountaintop removal financing.

 

 

 

Betsy Damon creates interventions with Tibetan communities to save sacred water sources.

Mathias Kessler & scientist Dr. Wendelin Weingartner, use software interfaces to verbally announce plant stress symptoms.

Certainly not “art for art’s sake”, Effective Art derives inspiration from outside the art discourse. This work stretches what art is capable of doing, beyond green-washing contemporary culture or complaints about art’s marginalization. As Gustave Speth, a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former Dean at Yale School of Environmental Studies says “we need all the help we can get”. This work of these artists examines successful tactics that use art as a critical weapon in the fight against environmental destruction.

©Lillian Ball 2013

Getting Millennials to Care More about the Environment

By Whitney Works, Intern for SCEE’s Environmental Art Department

Working with the Environmental Art Department of the Schuylkill Center has piqued my interest in a few things. While I recognize my own conservation habits, I can’t help but wonder about my colleagues and other Millennials (those aged 18-29). Those outside of the environmental science or nonprofit sphere; how do they view the environment and its pressing issues?

Surprisingly, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study earlier this year finding that Millennials were more civically and politically disengaged and less concerned about helping the larger community than GenX and Baby Boomers were at the same ages.

So, what?

Millennials are now the largest group of Americans outnumbering Baby Boomers (nearly 90 million strong) by an estimated 20 million. Their presence can no longer be overlooked. It’s estimated that they will have the most buying power by 2017 and for the next 40 years after that.

Not only do nonprofits have to make their missions and projects more engaging to Millennials, but they also need to get them excited about social change.

That’s just it. How exactly do you encourage Millennials to care more about the environment? Beyond growing their own gardens, composting, recycling, and using sustainable materials.

Participant Media just launched a new channel YouTube channel, TakePart TV. The channel “serves as a digital home for clever, eye-opening and optimistic content around big issues that face our planet for Millennials ranging from teens to thirtysomethings”. Clips like the Waterpocalypse Now video, from the Brain Food Daily series takes a humorous, more crass approach, but one has to wonder if these types of media really move audiences to action.

Ecoarttech, a unique organization “combining primitive with emergent technologies, to investigate the overlapping terrain between ‘nature’, built environments, mobility, and electronic spaces” may be on to something. Their current project Indeterminate Hikes+ is a mobile media app that “transforms everyday landscapes into sites of bio-cultural diversity and wild happenings”. Users map out a hike in a natural or urban setting and along the way are asked to perform small tasks, learning to appreciate the surrounding environment and notice the unique sits often overlooked.

Having the unique advantage of combining both visual art with environmental education, what can the Schuylkill Center take away from these two examples in order to engage Philadelphia young professionals about relevant environmental issues, such as stormwater run-off?

I’m on a self-made mission to find out.

Stay tuned for more blog posts from the Advisory Board, and more on the Millennial view on Environmental Art.

Hear from Our Team!

By Jenny Laden

Now it’s time to hear from our team !  Here they are, discussing our planning project, the art program’s goals, and what makes The Schuylkill Center unique. Our Advisory team is collectively committed to progressive collaboration in art and science, and after our time together have a sincere fondness for the site and the program.

Moving forward, we will be sharing some thoughts and ideas from the team members themselves in the coming weeks. In the meantime, watch these smart amazing people, and join in our Walk in the Woods.
Special thanks to Mangrove Media for their gorgeous filming.

What Makes the Schuylkill Center Unique

The Goals of this project

Advisory Team Meets at Schuylkill Center

By Jenny Laden

On August 16th and 17th, SCEE hosted seven Advisory Team Members to visit our center and assist in the re-visioning of the Art Program’s direction. As part of the Pew Philadelphia Exhibition Initiative’s Planning Grant, the Team was invited to convene over the two days to discuss the Center’s opportunities, challenges and help craft a clear vision for the direction of the Art department at SCEE. Learn about the team here. Visiting us over the meeting were Deenah Loeb, SCEE board member and Art Committee chair, and Mary Salvante, founder and former Director of the Art Program.

Over the two days, the team was introduced to the Center’s land with a long walk with staff members: Mike Weilbacher, Joanne Donohue, Gail Farmer and Jenny Laden.

We walked though Penn’s Native Acres and Joanne and Mike discussed the restoration efforts at SCEE, and the contrast between the “restored”/”managed” areas and the rest of our property – delving into the details of soil composition changing as a result of non-native earthworms, invasive plant species such as stilt grass and why it prevents forest growth.

We saw erroded paths – the result of stormwater runoff from our building which runs down our hill. This errosion prevents growth, and brings unwanted debris to ponds and streams.

Gail Farmer, Education Director at SCEE, discussed the importance of environmental education, and the experience city dwellers have when they visit us here. She mentioned this book, which is an interesting perspective on why kids are reticent to fully engage in nature.

The team discussed other projects where art served to restore, remediate, revive bruised broken down space. We created a list of goals for our new work – including the notion that our projects must make visitors/participants and users Think, Feel and Do;  provide well interpreted information, offer a moving/surprising/effective experience and clearly present ideas to bring home which might alter their behavior, or the world around them.

We discussed the value of collaboration, and the importance of experimentation, the problems with the term “sustainability,” using art to educate an urban community about nature, the relationship between art and science, on various levels (personal, institutional, national, global). The team felt strongly that our work here must consider multiple time frames (short, medium and large) – so that our art projects might have a variety of ways of becoming, being and remaining (or not). Nothing replaces the time spent in a place. Our most successful artist projects (like Jennie Thwing’s brolo hill project)  thus far have come from artists who spent significant time here and arrive at a deeper understanding of the complexities that exist on our site.

At the end of a long two days, we collaborated on the following mission statement, paving a new way forward for the Environmental Art Program: 

SchuylkillArt provides opportunities to investigate, innovate and interpret the nature of place

Stay tuned for team member interviews, blogposts and more.

Letter from Director of Environmental Art

By Jenny Laden, Director of Environmental Art

Let’s begin with Joseph Beuys.

An environmentalist before that was a word. I keep returning to his project 7000 Oaks

for its smart, simple answer to the problem of deforestation. Beuys was an artist who believed in action, in collaboration, in innovation and in the deep, enormous value of the natural world. He used humor, research and the power of community to create iconic works which spawned a generation of artists who both raise awareness and find solutions. Let’s discuss solutions. The focus of environmental art practice tends to be about problems – problems with how we humans treat nature, problems with our misguided understanding and ignorance of nature’s intricate systems, cycles and methods of regereration. Like most artists, environmental artists care about problems in nature – and our own human relationship to it. They want to take action, spur others into taking action, to activate the space around them and find ways for art to matter.

To be important.

To sink in and create change.

This is what inspires me most in this work – the passion and dedication to finding solutions. Their clear minded thinking that yes, they can help, they can do something worthwhile with their art work, and they can use their art to move beyond the pointing out of problems. Regardless of the continued human devastation of the natural world , some of us still think it is worthwhile to search for solutions and educate the public to seek their own. Maybe, somehow, these solutions will surface, will be adopted here and there, eventually to become integrated into how we all live. Green roofs, community gardens, composting, recycling – these seemingly obvious remedies were not practiced at all 40 years ago. The blend of artistic imagination with the knowledge about ecological mechanics is a recipe for something wonderful. We shall, in fact, see.